Why do you travel?

What is it about this wonderful, massive, intimidating world that attracts us so?  Why aren’t we content with a little settlement somewhere in the mountains with a running spring of water and a dog to warm our feet?

Come to think of it, that actually sounds pretty nice.

But that’s not enough for me.  And I’ll hazard a guess that it’s not enough for you either.  Travel ignites something inside of us that, sometimes, we didn’t even know existed. 

“Buying plane tickets is better than drugs,” I said to my grandma last night on the phone.  This month, I’m going to Wichita, Kansas to visit one of my best friends from college.  Kansas has a reputation for its twisters and ruby slippers, but not for defining features that actually live off the silver screen.  It’s not rumored to be a particularly exhilarating place.

Nonetheless, I got a shiver of excitement up my spine while trolling the United Airlines app for the best flights.  The destination could have been anywhere; I was just excited to be going somewhere, let alone reuniting with a friend I haven’t seen since our college graduation.

I spend a lot of time trolling the United Airlines app, come to think of it.  Same with American Airlines, my favorite flight tracking app Hopper, Airbnb, and any other site that I would use to seek out the best travel plans.  I have at least 10 Airbnb wish lists for places I want to go and accommodations I want to book, even though I have no practical plan to do so.

Making travel plans I won’t fulfill is a pastime.  I’m six months out from my college graduation, living at home, trying to finish a novel, and craving something more.  Something bigger than myself.  I want the thrill of a Parisian sidewalk, the adventure of wandering the Fes medina in Morocco.  I think back on my adventures as if they were past life.  In this life, I want to feel the rush of excitement, smell strange and wonderful smells, meet people who surprise me.  I want to butcher a language that feels strange in my mouth and learn what color the ocean is in Thailand.

A few days ago, I went to Hello, Sailor in Cornelius, NC with two good friends.  We sat out on the porch and overlooked Lake Norman with the restaurant-provided blankets warming our laps.  I ordered a boozy Cherry Lemon Sundrop slushie and it was delicious.  I got appropriately tipsy.

I don’t remember how we got in the subject, but my friends started to debate the merits of pineapple on pizza.  While they playfully argued, our waitress came over and started refilling the water glasses.  As she poured, we made eye contact and shared a small laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.

I don’t remember her name, and I regret not asking.  Something about her caught my attention because she seemed like she had a story to tell.  Beyond her excellent customer service and amenable personality, I got the sense that she had something interesting to say.  I don’t know what it was, and that’s the burden of being a writer who lets an opportunity pass by.

So much of my love of travel comes from a love of stories.  I love learning quirky facts about the city I’m in, hearing about the daily life of someone who lives there.  I love stories in general.  My family has a long tradition of oral storytelling and I grew up captivated by my aunties as they reenacted family legends from their childhood.

Even with this love of travel and storytelling, I don’t feel the same wonder when I’m at home in Concord, North Carolina.  I live in a pocket of the North Charlotte suburbs that lies evenly between Concord and Huntersville, two suburb towns.  I’ve always lived in this five-mile radius of two-story developments, Harris Teeter grocery stores, and Starbucks drive-thrus.  My home isn’t a place to be explored; it’s a place that houses people, nothing more.

And yet, I stumbled upon a person with a story that I didn’t venture to hear, right in my backyard.

How many stories have I missed out on because I approached my hometown like a resident instead of a traveler?

I’ve learned in the past 18 months that travel isn’t an action; it’s a mindset.  To travel is not to book flights, scrounge for accommodations, and exchange your currency at an overpriced train station ATM.  To travel is to be curious about the people and places around you.  To travel is to ask questions and listen, actually listen, to the answers.

I want to live my life as a traveler, from the late-night grocery trips to Harris Teeter to exploring the cobbled street in Old Town, Dubrovnik.

Travel is a mindset; you are your own plane ticket.